Mental illness is defined as “Any of various conditions characterized by impairment of an individual’s normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning, and caused by social, psychological, biochemical, genetic, or other factors, such as infection or head trauma.”
- Since 1983, over 60 people with mental illness or retardation have been executed in the United States.
- It is conservatively estimated that 5-10% of death row inmates suffer from serious mental illness.
- Research has shown that nearly all Death Row inmates suffer from brain damage due to illness or trauma, while a vast number have also experienced histories of severe physical and/or sexual abuse.
- Mental illness is not only a problem on Death Row. In 1998, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that 283,000 mentally ill individuals were incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons.
- Legislation has been passed barring the execution of juvenile or mentally retarded individuals. While it is unconstitutional to execute the insane, those suffering from other or lesser mental illnesses are insufficiently protected under the law.
Mental Illness and the Death Penalty
May 5, 2009 read the files
From Amnesty International
The execution of those with mental illness or “the insane” is clearly prohibited by international law. Virtually every country in the world prohibits the execution of people with mental illness.
Detailed report with unique sections dedicated to legal standards and policies, self-injurious behavior, inadequate mental health care in prisons, the effects of solitary segregation on mentally ill prisoners, mental illness in female prisoners, and coping difficulties of mentally ill inmates. Also includes case studies and recommendations to Congress, public officials, community leaders, prison staff, and the general public.
Five Excellent Studies and Reports Regarding Mental Illness and the Death Penalty (2011)
1. Double Tragedies: Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty For People with Severe Mental Illness (available for download; 37 pages) by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights;
3. Mental Illness and the Death Penalty in North Carolina: a Diagnostic Approach (available for download; 78 pages) by the Charlotte Law School;
4. Mental Illness and the Death Penalty (available for download, 8 pages) by the American Civil Liberties Union; and
5. Task Force Report on Mental Disability and the Death Penalty (available for download, 13 pages), by multi-disciplined task force and published by the APA.
Amnesty International. “‘Where is the compassion?’: The imminent execution of Scott Panetti, mentally ill offender.” 2004.
Amnesty International. “Time for humanitarian intervention: The imminent execution of Larry Robison.” 1999.
Stone, Alan A., M.D. “Condemned Prisoner Treated and Executed.” Psychiatric Times. Mar. 2004.
Supreme Court case which banned executions of the insane. Though the legislation is progressive, it is criticized for being too superficial–for defining insanity too loosely, leaving determination up to each individual state, and in general being insufficiently applicable.
Page dedicated to the problem of mental illness on Death Row. Includes past and current case summaries as well as legislative briefs.
List of mental illnesses with links to further resources and information regarding each.